MORNING NEWS BRIEF: 04 JUNE
PICTURE OF THE DAY
COLOMBO, SRI LANKA
Sri Lankan authorities are preparing for an oil spill from a sunken container ship after efforts to tow the vessel into deeper waters failed. The Singapore-registered X-Press Pearl had been on fire for two weeks near the port of Colombo. Part of the hull has now settled on the seabed. Experts fear hundreds of tonnes of oil in the ship's tanks could devastate nearby marine life and beaches. The blaze has destroyed most of the ship’s cargo. Some containers tumbled into the sea, polluting surrounding waters and a long stretch of the island nation’s famed beaches.
[Ishara S Kodikara/AFP]
Why Modi must swallow his pride and accept Chinese coronavirus vaccines
In the past few weeks, we have seen leaders of some of the world’s most populous nations seeking more Covid-19 vaccine doses from China. Demand is expected to rise further after the World Health Organization gave vaccines from China’s Sinopharm Group, and now Sinovac Biotech, approval for emergency use. This is good news for developing countries. They will be able to access more vaccines through the Covax Facility, a global vaccination initiative led by international partnerships and agencies, including the WHO. But these efforts by China are a blow to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-hyped vaccine diplomacy. India exported tens of millions of vaccine doses earlier this year. Despite being home to the world’s largest vaccine industry, however, it is now struggling to inoculate its own population amid a new surge in cases and has had to pause vaccine exports.
Censorship is plunging Modi’s India into darkness
Controlling the truth is one of the most potent tools at the disposal of aspiring authoritarians. Narendra Modi’s National Democratic Alliance government in India has figured as much as it responds to the country’s humanitarian and epidemiological COVID-19 crisis, which many argue is of its own making. Amid a crescendo of criticism from foreign and domestic observers over incompetent handling, the embattled and embarrassed government has blocked 100 critical tweets, including by opposition lawmakers, journalists and other civil society figures. These events represent an escalating trend of suppressing free speech in India following a face-off with Twitter in February 2021.
International Red Cross head meets Myanmar junta chief in Naypyitaw
The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross Peter Maurer has met Min Aung Hlaing, chief of Myanmar's junta, in the first visit by a senior western official to the capital, Naypyitaw, since the Feb. 1 coup. In talks on Thursday with the junta chief, Maurer made two key requests -- to resume prison visits by ICRC teams and to gain more humanitarian access to conflict areas in Myanmar. While the junta chief was noncommittal, the talks were seen as making progress because ICRC's requests were "not refused," said people familiar with the meeting. Maurer's meeting with the junta chief, who has rejected requests by the United Nations special envoy on Myanmar and others to visit the country, also signaled progress in ICRC's push to recommence prison visits, suspended last year due to COVID-19, and to gain more access for medical and protection personnel to conflict areas, said a Yangon-based diplomat.
Pakistani Foreign Minister’s trip to Iraq: The Latest Seam in Pakistan’s Outreach to the Gulf
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi recently concluded a three-day visit to Iraq where he held talks with both the Iraqi President and Prime Minister as well as with other high-ranking officials including the country’s Foreign Minister and Defense Minister. The focus of the visit centered around economy, trade and investment and issues related to promoting people-to-people linkages particularly Pakistani Zaireen (pilgrims). The Foreign Minister’s trip ties in with how the Pakistan leadership has been markedly engaging with the Gulf countries keeping economics at the forefront. Recent high-level visits include those to Qatar, the Emirates, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. During all of these appointments, apart from increasing trade links, the focus was on highlighting the role of the Pakistani diaspora as well as countering rising Islamophobia.
Asian investors have doubts about Myanmar’s military regime
When tanks rumbled into Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s capital, on February 1st, the man who sent them there, Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, tried to offer the public reassurance. Though the civilian leadership had been supplanted by men in fatigues, the coup, he suggested, would be good for the economy. It was not an absurd claim: the previous military-backed government, in power from 2011 to 2016, was considered more solicitous and efficient by many businessmen than the democratically elected one that followed it. And although previous stints of military rule had seen America and other Western countries impose sanctions, many Asian investors had ignored them and piled into what had seemed a promising market. Some 90% of the total stock of foreign investment in Myanmar comes from other Asian countries. If businesses around the region could be persuaded to keep funnelling money to the country, the general’s boosterism could conceivably prove correct. But the initial evidence suggests they are not quite as gung-ho as they used to be.
Pro-India Kashmiri politician tortured in custody, say UN experts
United Nations experts have expressed concern over “repressive measures and broader pattern of systematic infringements of fundamental rights” in Indian-administered Kashmir and asked the Indian government to respond to allegations of rights violations in the disputed region. In a letter sent to the Indian government at the end of March and made public on Monday, five UN experts sought New Delhi’s response to three main allegations: the “enforced disappearance” of Naseer Ahmad Wani from southern Kashmir’s Shopian district, the “extrajudicial killing” of Irfan Ahmad Dar in north Kashmir’s Sopore, and the “arbitrary detention” of pro-India leader Waheed-Ur-Rehman Para from Pulwama.
Israel is trying to oust Bibi Netanyahu. But will he really go?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political obituary has been written and rewritten. Each time he fails to win an election or his government collapses, or he is accused of corruption, or, worse yet, indicted, new predictions of his political demise are circulated — only to be superseded, days or weeks later, by the story of his resurrection. This time, though, his position is especially dire: On Wednesday, his rivals Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid announced they had pulled together a broad governing coalition in the Israeli parliament that would include parties from the left to the center to the hard right, while excluding Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party. If the coalition receives a vote of confidence from the full parliament, as is expected, Netanyahu will have to step down as prime minister. So is this the end of the road for the man who has been the dominant Israeli political figure of his era? Is this the beginning of a sharp change in direction for Israel? My advice? Don’t bet the house on it. And don’t count him out until you hear the prison doors clang shut behind him.